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How could Shadow and Bone's second season so terribly screw up its ships?

2023-03-21  Sophia Zackary


The second season of Shadow and Bone gets off to a roaring start, or to be more precise, a passionate kiss. After a season of Mal stalking and simply for his closest friend, the show builds up to the moment where they finally lock lips, paying off the sexual tension that was built up during the season. Even though a cheesy pickup line was necessary to bring the two of them together, I went back and watched the scene again. At long last, the two were able to figure it out.

This moment was one that I had been waiting for: The first season demonstrated that Mal and Alina have a profound bond and are completely devoted to one another. In addition, their relationship in season 2 serves as a counterpoint to the fantastical and frequently bloody narrative that predominates the television adaptation of the Grishaverse. It brings a sense of familiarity and stability to the proceedings. In young adult and new adult romances, where feelings are heightened and characters learn about themselves through the experience of falling in love with another person, young adult and new adult fiction is one of my favourite genres. When you place these love stories against the backdrop of stressful action — young people who are fighting for their lives and their country — you have the makings of an engaging drama that can't help but keep the audience engaged.

But the second season of Shadow and Bone quickly loses its bearings when it comes to its representations of romance. This is because the show juggles so many different romantic arcs that none of them gets the chance to shine, let alone completely burn. This is primarily because it is adapting a huge number of source texts, including Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising, as well as some novella content for the Six of Crow's crew. There are a lot of couples crammed in there: Jesper and Wylan, Nina and Matthias, Genya and David, of course, Mal and Alina (and maybe briefly Alina and Nikolai), and Kaz and Inej, even though their relationship is not as plain as the relationships of the other couples. To squeeze all of the romance subplots into a single season of television, the adaptation makes some strange decisions regarding how to condense the story.

[Editor's note: This article explores love partnerships throughout the second season of Shadow and Bone, including a spoiler about Mal and Alina at the series' conclusion.]

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The primary problem is just the sheer amount of data that is covered during the season. Even for a show that isn't rushing through the content of so many books' worth of action-packed material, the inclusion of this many pairings would be considered a generous number. However, the season continues apace, reaching story beat after plot beat in a juggling act that gives the impression that the screenplay is extremely hectic. Because of the need to condense these romantic arcs so that they may be contained within more manageable time frames, every one of them feels hurried. Consider the couple Jesper and Wylan: the show spends only a few episodes introducing Wylan before the two of them become romantically involved. The writers then invent a one-night-stand narrative to make their chemistry appear more believable.

When it is handled in this manner, each pairing produces a lot of heat but very little light; it is as if we are supposed to believe that a fire might rage without any kindling present. The plots of romantic comedies typically adhere to a formula that goes something like this: A couple meets, starts dating, and eventually falls in love with one another. This could happen as a result of overcoming difficulties together or it could be the result of simple flirtation. The most pivotal moments in a romantic story are also the most memorable, such as the scene in Pride and Prejudice where a soaked Mr Darcy declares his love or the mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians where Rachel pleads her case. Both of these moments are examples of a romance's climax. The payoff for these crucial sequences comes not from the pivotal scenes themselves, but rather from the moments in between them, the interstitial moments, in which the stories develop tension and anticipation through intimacy and flirtation. Despite their purported "hatred" for one another, Mr Darcy may be seen openly doting on his younger sister and engaging in a clever flirtation with Lizzie Bennet. Rachel and Nick are shown having drinks together at a pub, flying together, and making passionate eye contact during the extravagant wedding of their mutual friends.

It is not my intention to imply that Shadow and Bone season 2 is on par with some of the most well-liked romantic comedies that have been produced in recent memory. It is important to note, however, that the current season of the show spends very little time developing the characters' romantic chemistry with one another; after all, there is a lot of content to cover. Instead, the show focuses on the most dramatic moments in the romantic arcs of its characters, despite having an entire season of television to work with. Because of this, it seems as though the couples on the show are always engaged in some variation of the Big Fight or the Grand Gesture. But because there were no other scenes in between, when the characters built up tension and anticipation, those huge moments didn't have the same payoff, which made these couples' love encounters appear flat and like they were just going through the motions.

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Both Genya and David are affected by this. The first season begins with a slow burn, as Genya makes eyes at David, who is unaware of her advances. It is highly plausible that they had developed a close relationship throughout their time spent together at the Little Palace. On the other hand, there is a significant gap between this point in season 1 and season 2 In episode 3, Genya decides to give her life to the frightening nichevo'ya to buy David some time so that he can escape. The show gives the impression that the two became close because of being cooped up under General Kirigan's leadership, but it doesn't devote a lot of screen time to the scenes in which they collaborate.

When David and Genya are reunited as part of Alina's underground insurgency, David is all of a sudden much more direct and loud about his desire to track Genya down and express his affection. Between gaining his freedom and being reunited with her, he came to the realisation that he has romantic affection for her, and that the act of sacrifice she made helped him better understand these feelings. However, given the lack of additional information and the inability to see the development of their connection (in addition to the horrible things he did to Alina in the first season), it is difficult to get into this idea. Their brief fling together is a bright spot in an otherwise depressing run of episodes, but in the end, it comes out as more obligatory than intriguing or convincing in either of those categories.

Even the shaky relationship between Mal and Alina comes to an end in this season. Mal stays by Alina's side as always, guiding her in the search for the amplifiers so that she can build up her strength and be able to defeat the Fold. They enjoy a few tender moments with one another either before doing something potentially harmful or after finding out important information. The video of Mal and Alina when they were younger and lying in a field together is shown multiple times throughout Shadow and Bone. The two eventually go forward as a pair, growing apart as the friction between Alina's power and Mal's yearning for a normal life develops. Despite a few confusing subplots, such as Mal being kidnapped for a brief period, the two ultimately progress.
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However, the couple's decision to split up after the season comes as a complete and utter shock — particularly because it is presented as a dramatic act, without any build-up or more subtle, introspective plot beats in between. It would appear that Mal's magical lineage predestined him to meet Alina, and now that his urges to track have subsided, he is curious as to whether or not he still has feelings for her. After nearly two full seasons of relentlessly pursuing her, he has decided that it is time to give up on her and move on. It is difficult to reconcile the distance between this Mal and the Mal who, just one episode earlier, was willing to die for Alina. This is especially difficult to do in a show that regarded this connection as the centre focus of the narrative. Once more, the show seems to assume that significant events function as emotional turning points, even though these moments just exist in a void.

There is room for some of these other pairings to develop even further if the show is picked up for a third season. As two individuals who have been through traumatic experiences, Kaz and Inej, the core of the Crows group, have the challenge of overcoming enormous barriers to closeness. The sexual tension that has been building up between the two characters for the past two seasons finally came to a head when Inej spoke one of his most famous lines: "I will have you without armour, Kaz Brekker." Or else I will not have any dealings with you." This presents a challenge for the third season to tackle, and we can only hope that the show will be able to take the time to unpack their relationships in the same manner.

2023-03-21  Sophia Zackary